Corey Clement is approaching his fourth NFL season as if it’s his first.
In his mind, he’s an undrafted rookie again, with little room for error, determined to do whatever it takes to earn a roster spot.
“I’m just focused on going balls to the wall,’' the Eagles running back said Monday after the Eagles kicked off their 2 ½-week training camp at the NovaCare Complex with a 90-minute padded practice. “Let the chips fall where they may and have fun and be excited to get another opportunity to play with the guys and be back in the building.”
In his mind, his impressive rookie season, highlighted by his memorable performance in Super Bowl LII, never happened. And neither did the two forgettable seasons that followed it.
“I hit a hard reset and asked myself, ‘What did I do my first year that I need to grab and bring in to this year?‘’' he said.
“This is my fourth year. But I’m approaching it like it’s my rookie season. I’m not coming in like I know it all or don’t need any extra work or don’t need any extra study time.
“I’m approaching it like I’ve got my back up against the wall. I’m ready to show everybody once again what I’ve been working on and how I can go about it, and that I’m a guy you can depend on on offense and special teams.‘'
The fact of the matter is Clement does have his back to the wall. After missing 17 games with injuries the last two years, he is guaranteed nothing in this COVID summer. The Glassboro, native must prove he deserves one of the two spots behind Miles Sanders and Boston Scott.
Including Sanders, Scott, and Clement, the Eagles have six running backs. They’ll likely open the season with four.
The other three backs in camp right now are undrafted rookies Adrian Killins and Michael Warren, and Elijah Holyfield, who spent last season on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.
It’s possible the Eagles will eventually sign a veteran running back. They had some interest in LeSean McCoy (who signed with Tampa Bay) and Devonta Freeman (who still is unsigned). But right now, they prefer to evaluate the running backs they already have before considering bringing in anyone else.
“I have a hell of a room,’' running backs coach Duce Staley said late last month. “A bunch of young players that can play and can play fast. Those guys in my room right now are working their asses off.
“We have Miles, who has a ton of playing time. We have Boston. We have Warren and Killins. And we have Corey, who has a bunch of playing time and looks great. He’s got his ears pinned back. He’s ready. He looks awesome. He wants to get back to the old Corey.”
Clement was on top of the world 2 ½ years ago after helping the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and had six touchdowns as a rookie, then had 10 receptions in the playoffs, including four for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots. His spectacular 22-yard third-quarter TD catch gave the Eagles a 10-point lead at the time.
Clement also had a memorable role in the Philly Special, taking the snap and pitching the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who hit a wide-open Nick Foles in the end zone.
Clement is one of just three running backs in Super Bowl history with 100 or more receiving yards. The 49ers’ Roger Craig and the Patriots’ James White are the other two. Not bad company. He’s also one of just four rookies at any position in Super Bowl history with 100 receiving yards.
But Clement was unable to build on his rookie success. The chip on his shoulder that drove him as an undrafted rookie a year earlier was conspicuously missing in 2018. He still talked a good game, but he seemed to be living on his Super Bowl glory.
He also battled some nagging injuries and finally was put on injured reserve in early December with a knee injury.
Last year, he opened the season as the Eagles’ No. 4 running back behind Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Darren Sproles, and was their main kickoff return guy.
He played just three offensive snaps in the first four games before injuring his shoulder on a kickoff return and missing the rest of the season.
The Eagles didn’t tender Clement a contract offer after the season, effectively making him a free agent. But they re-signed him in April to a one-year deal.
Clement understands that nothing is promised him this summer. He understands that he must earn everything he gets.
“I’m not shying away from hard work one bit,” he said. “I come into the building with my book bag, my pencil, my helmet, my shoulder pads, and my pants and am excited for another opportunity.”
Staley isn’t the only one in the running back room who has been impressed by Clement. So has Sanders, who, assuming he stays healthy, will get the bulk of the backfield work this season.
“Corey looks great,” he said. “He looks explosive. He looks like Super Bowl Corey to me.”
Said Clement: “That’s definitely pleasing to hear. I’ve been working so hard just get out there with these guys. I watched Miles and Boston go off last year. I’m just excited to be a part of this group.”
A lot of that, frankly, is false modesty. Clement is a fierce competitor. He’s not “just excited” to be a part of the Eagles’ running back room any more than he was “just excited” to go undrafted in 2017 after rushing for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior year at Wisconsin.
He is determined to prove that he isn’t a flash in the pan. He is determined to prove he belongs in the NFL and can make a significant contribution to another Eagles Super Bowl run.
“I feel great,” Clement said. “I just want to go out there and showcase what I’ve been working on all offseason. Regardless of the shoulder injury [from last season], I feel top-notch. I feel faster. I feel more explosive. I just feel more accustomed to my body.